Miami blew a 2-1 lead in the third period to continue its road woes as Vince Bellissimo’s game winner at 13:34, his fourth goal in his last two games, put Western Michigan over the RedHawks 3-2.
A neutral-zone turnover by Miami (14-9-2, 8-7-2 CCHA) turned into a 3-on-0 rush the other way, and before the RedHawks knew it, Jeremy Cheyne fed a Bellissimo a one-timer across the slot for an easy goal past senior goaltender Dave Burleigh to put WMU up for good.
Bellissimo now leads the Broncos in goals with 11.
“We just forced the puck to the net,” said WMU head coach Jim Culhane. “(Mat) Ponto gets his first career goal and nullified their momentum to tie the game, and (it was) a real unselfish play by Jeremy (Cheyne) on the game-winning goal to make a pass over to Vince (Bellissimo). If we don’t score on that play, I’d be screaming at him because he should have shot the puck, but he made a great pass over to Vince, and helped him score his second of the night.”
“It just hit me in the glove, and I threw it ahead,” said Cheyne. “But I thought it was going to be blown down for throwing the puck, and it didn’t … Coach told us before the shift to, offensively, check real hard, and it just turned out well.”
Burleigh (13-9-2) made 19 saves in defeat, while sophomore goaltender Mike Mantua raised his record to 7-8-0 with 16 saves.
Miami has dropped its last six road contests, while the Broncos (10-12-1, 8-7-0 CCHA) haven’t lost a CCHA game at home since November 2. Coming into the weekend, Miami, the CCHA’s third-ranked attack, averaged 1.6 goals per game less on the road than at home (4.3).
Culhane gave credit to an improved defensive effort in the win.
“They usually shoot 30-35 pucks on net, so I’m pleased about that. I think it was just a good team effort, defensively, to minimize their scoring opportunities. Their one line of Jardine, Kompon, and Hogeboom has 70 points; that’s a lot of points for any team in one line combination, so I think the team did a good job trying to nullify them as best they could.”
Bellissimo’s first tally of the night also came on a Miami turnover. The freshman forward intercepted a pass in the RedHawk zone, drew Burleigh out of his net, and roofed a shot at 4:12 to put WMU up 1-0.
After a slow second period marred by icings and only six combined shots between the two teams, Miami took advantage of a Lucas Drake penalty to even the game with the man-advantage early in the third period. Junior forward Greg Hogeboom tallied his 15th goal of the season, a team high, by skating through the WMU defense and deking Mantua out of position before scoring on a backhander at 1:00 of the third period to even the contest at one goal each.
“I told the guys that in between periods,” said Culhane. “(Penalties) are going to cost us. We get fed up talking about it. The Drake penalty, the Shawn Rose penalty; that’s unnecessary. It’s garbage that needs to get cleaned up, and until it sinks into their head, we’re going to give teams opportunities and our best penalty killer has to be Mike.”
The RedHawks took the lead nearly four minutes later when freshman forward Chris Michael put a shot on Mantua that the goaltender stopped, but his momentum carried the puck over the goal line at 4:56 of the third to give Miami a 2-1 lead.
But it was perfect timing for WMU sophomore defenseman Ponto’s first career goal. The Galahad, Alb., native took advantage of a screened Burleigh by blasting a shot from the point over the goaltender’s right shoulder at 8:25 of the third to tie the game at 2-2.
“It was screened,” said Ponto. “Benny (Gagnon) got it out of the corner, saw me open at the point, and I just one-timed it to put it on the net, and it went in.”
“Good things happen when you put the puck on the net.”
Bellissimo’s final goal was only fitting as the Broncos made the RedHawks pay for defensive mistakes all night.
“We got a break there at the end,” said Culhane. “I don’t know how that thing turns over, you look up and there is no one in front of you, but it was a good decision for Jeremy to get the puck over to Vince.”
“All the credit goes to (Dana) Lattery and Cheyne;” said Bellissimo. “Lattery for scaring the crap out of the defensemen, and he just passed me the puck. It was real simple. I just tried to put it in the upper portion of the net like Coach talks about; so all the credit on the first goal goes to Lattery. On the second goal, it was all Cheyne; it was just a 3-on-0 on my doorstep. Lattery and Cheyne get all the credit tonight.”
Bellissimo was more than happy to stop the Broncos’ streak of poor performances on Friday night.
“It’s about time we come out with a half-decent effort on Friday. I think we can play better than we did tonight, but the bottom line is you’re not always going to play your best, and you just have to get the two points when you’re not playing your best hockey, but I felt we played fairly well tonight.”
The win puts WMU over .500 in CCHA play for the first time since November 1.
Like his team’s poor offensive effort on the night, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi didn’t have much to say when asked about Miami’s poor road record.
“I don’t know what stats you’re talking about, because I don’t look at stats, but we got outworked and outplayed tonight and they deserved to win.”
The two schools conclude their season series Saturday at Lawson Ice Arena. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.